July 3, 2014

Americans Don't Like to Lose

Of course, nobody does– which is obvious if you’ve seen many or any of the fan reaction shots of national and international devotees in moments of elation or despair while watching their teams in the World Cup.

Specifically, I was interested in domestic photos of the game on Tuesday that spelled the end of the road for the plucky and overachieving Team U.S.A. The photos that stood out to me, however (out of these approximately 250 at Getty), were largely overlooked. The last of the three pics here was published in a couple of places but these first two appeared nowhere I could find. Why I was drawn to them is because, at least in my mind, they combine a sprinkling of sport, nationalism and, in the first photo at least, hints of militarism, too.

As the young guy in the center of the photo is stricken by the outcome of U.S. – Belgium, what strikes me about this shot by Andrew Burton is not just the cammo hat in between the flag bandannas, but that gaze. Under different terms, that face could be burned or bloodied, the look more patently associated with the shell-shocked soldier’s thousand yard stare.

What attracts me to the second photo, by Getty’s Chip Somodevilla, is the symbolism of hiding one’s face, especially with the flag. When it comes to America as a player (over anything) on the world stage, with the overwhelming investment in pride comes the risk of its corollary, shame.

Just as much though, I’m fascinated by the cross-section of reactions, from amusement to mystery to passive engagement to overwhelm to self-consciousness. (It seems to me that the guy with the scarf is looking right at the camera.) I can’t account for it but the mixed bag of expressions reminds me how Americans (as invested as they were over the four U.S. matches) are largely unfamiliar with the game.

As for this last shot, also by Andrew Burton, the flag-flation and the devastation (and the hard hat, too?) puts us back in the nationalism and pride territory.  I’m probably looking at this photo, enhanced by the bandaged arm and the hands gripping the head (like “The Scream”) mindful of all the jingoism that accompanied our Iraq campaigns as that country finally, and resultantly, comes undone.

(photo 1 & 3: Andrew Burton/Getty caption: Fans of the United States watch the U.S. game versus Belgium game in the World Cup on a projected screen under the Manhattan Bridge on July 1, 2014 in the Dumbo neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York, United States. Belgium went on to eliminate the U.S. from the World Cup in overtime with a final score 2-1 .photo 2: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images caption 2: Fans react after watching the U.S. lose to Belgium in the World Cup during a viewing party in the Kogod Courtyard of the Smithsonian National Portait Gallery July 1, 2014 in Washington, United States. Belgium won the match 2-1caption 3: Fans sit in defeat after the United States lost to Belgium in the World Cup under the Manhattan Bridge on July 1, 2014 in the Dumbo neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York. Belgium eliminated the U.S. from the World Cup in overtime with a final score 2-1.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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